Title Background



This essay takes issue with scholarly acceptance that the psychological powers associated with the Latin terminology of voluntas and the Middle English terminology of will have to be understood primarily in rational, ethical and intentionalist terms – a view determined by scholastic philosophical and theological notions of the ‘rational will’. Zeeman proposes that a more capacious tradition of thought about ‘willing’ offers less deliberative and intentionalised versions of voluntas and will. This includes influential passages from St Paul and Augustine about the internally conflicted will, and texts describing the soul’s ‘two wills’. This tradition sometimes invokes a bodily ‘will’, but this is not just a matter of broadening the category of volition to include ‘lower’ forms of desire. Instead, Zeeman claims that sometimes the terminology of voluntas and will is being used to think in quite different ways about psychological motion, as well as about other kinds of experience and suffering. These, she suggests, can be fruitfully brought into dialogue with psychoanalysis. Zeeman explores the distinctive account of the ‘two wills’ in the Revelations of Julian of Norwich, and suggests that Julian’s ‘bestely wille’ might speak back to the psychoanalytic idea of the symptom, while her ‘godly wille’, which could be read as a version of the Freudian pleasure principle, in fact speaks more illuminatingly to the benign naturalism of the death drive. She then considers The Cloud of Unknowing and its radical claim that, in advanced states of contemplation, the divine Other ultimately works to allow no space for the will. In her conclusion, Zeeman turns to PPl, where, in the final lines of the last dream ‘Wil’ seems to have disappeared.


Medieval Literature: Criticism and Debate, ed. by Holly A. Crocker and D. Vance Smith (London: Routledge, 2014), pp. 470-79


Zeeman, Nicolette